China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has used the coronavirus pandemic to shore up his political power at home, but the tools the Communist Party has exploited to do this are threatening China’s international standing, the Times’
“How they operate domestically spills over into how they operate internationally,” said Susan L. Shirk, the chairwoman of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. That means brooking no dissent, controlling the flow of information, emphasizing the central role of the Communist Party leadership and rarely, if ever, acknowledging mistakes.
Italy’s nationalist politician, Matteo Salvini, said late last month that if China deliberately covered up the initial spread of the coronavirus it would amount to a crime against humanity. “Those who have infected the world cannot be made saviors,” he said in remarks in Parliament posted on Twitter, the Times adds.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is attempting to reshape global media discourse about the COVID-19 pandemic and effectively overwrite public information about its own mishandling of the outbreak, notes Sarah Cook, Senior Research Analyst for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House.
Over the last month, CCP-backed media and other actors have pushed three narratives for a global audience: first, that China’s response to the crisis is a model for other countries to follow; second, that China is a global leader in the fight against COVID-19 and is providing aid to grateful nations; and third, that the coronavirus may have originated outside of China. Beijing and its proxies have used four key strategies to reach global audiences, she adds:
- Embedding state media content in mainstream foreign media: Foreign news outlets have continued to accept funds from Chinese state media to disseminate propaganda on China’s response to COVID-19. ….
- Spreading disinformation through Foreign Ministry spokespeople and diplomats: Throughout March, conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19 and other proven falsehoods have been amplified by senior Chinese diplomats. …
- Purchasing online ads with state media content: Chinese state media have been purchasing political advertisements on foreign social media sites in an effort to cover up Chinese authorities’ botched early response to the spread of the coronavirus and instead place blame for the pandemic on the United States. …
- Amplifying propaganda with Twitter bots: A March 26 investigation by ProPublica found a network of fake and hijacked Twitter accounts that were covertly spreading Chinese government propaganda about the virus to global audiences.
It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has afforded opportunities for authoritarian leaders to consolidate control. Does it afford any opportunities for democratic leaders? the New York Times asks Madeleine Albright, chairwoman for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED):
It’s more complicated than meets the eye. I believe that for a lot of the issues in combating the pandemic, you have to use centralized government and also have a message that goes out that is consistent and comes from the authorized leader. The question is how that’s exploited.
As the #CCP‘s influence rises, so too does its assault on democratic values. #COVID19 is a clear demonstration of the dangers unchecked #CCP power pose to humanity, @IRIglobal expert @DaveShullman said in testimony for @USCC_GOV.
International Medical Aid to Italy: Solidarity or Propaganda?
The unusual suffering in a wealthy European democracy like Italy has drawn the attention of authoritarian powers, which see an opportunity to insinuate the superiority of their systems and the failure of Italy’s traditional allies to come to its aid, adds Freedom House analyst Allessandra Pina. The delivery of much-needed supplies and other aid by China, Russia, and Cuba has resonated with the Italian public and fed into a narrative that blames Europe for a lack of solidarity during the crisis. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that these authoritarian aid initiatives were more about propaganda than solidarity.